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Trevor Noah, who hosts ‘The Daily Show’ on American TV, was at his satirical best when he said Brexit was meant to deliver the country back to its white British nationalists but what has actually happened is the opposite ― a brown British PM of Indian origin is elected to run the country!
Noah jokes that the racists among the UK’s white population might even fear that Rishi Sunak would be tempted to sell Britain to India!
Satire usually contains an element of reality. Rishi Sunak will be very mindful of the sentiment of the ultra-conservative segment of British society which led the Brexit campaign. Sunak says he is determined to earn the trust of the people and run a government of “integrity, accountability and transparency”.
But the task before Sunak is not easy. His diagnosis of the problems facing the British economy was spot on. He disagreed with Boris Johnson on economic policy and his tax cut plan and resigned as finance minister. He disagreed with Elizabeth Truss’s tax cut programme for the rich on the same grounds. Sunak argued that inflation had to be tackled on priority because the British working class was being taxed by extraordinary inflation above 9%. In such a situation, cutting taxes for the rich in the name of boosting growth would be disastrous.
Sunak’s critique of the policies of Johnson and Truss has been appreciated by the people. But as PM himself, Sunak will have to deliver and provide a lasting solution to the economic woes of Britain. British economists broadly agree that Britain has suffered a long-term growth crisis two decades long, and lagged behind other OECD economies like the US and Germany. Brexit caused uncertainties and slowed investments. Britain’s national debt is close to 100% of its GDP and Sunak, in his opening statement after becoming PM, promised that he would ensure that the burden is not passed on to the next generation of Britons. This will be a tough act, considering that the UK will go into elections after a year.
Sunak has hinted at tough economic decisions. Tough for whom, is the key question.
The working class has been hurting very badly due to high inflation and rising mortgage rates. Any further burden on this class by welfare cuts would make Sunak immediately unpopular and give a handle to vocal sections in the Opposition. As it is, the UK tabloids suggest that Sunak is not legitimately elected, neither by the people nor the members of the Conservative Party.
Sunak is likely to carry this burden at the back of his mind while taking key decisions. Negotiations in a India-UK trade deal was to conclude by Diwali, but political uncertainty in the UK put on the brakes. Now, some of the sticking points will have to be resolved by the new PM. India seeks a more liberal work visa regime for Indians in exchange for dropping duties on Scotch whiskey, automobiles etc imported from the UK. Sunak can be expected to be more pragmatic, but he can’t possibly deviate from his party’s position on stricter visa norms and a plan to send back foreigners, especially Africans, who have taken asylum in the UK.
Being of Indian origin, Sunak may have to be particularly careful not to be seen as more generous to India in a trade deal, even if pragmatism demands such generosity. In short, Sunak may have to keep passing Trevor Noah’s satire test from time to time.
This article was first published on The India Cable – a premium newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas – and has been republished here. To subscribe to The India Cable, click here.